45 pages 1 hour read

Sigmund Freud

The Uncanny

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1919

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Part 4, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood”Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Summary: Part 4, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood”

Freud continues his interpretation of the vulture fantasy, now attributing the “demonic magic” of the Mona Lisa’s smile to the repressed emotions of da Vinci himself. The painting seems to distill the sense of femininity and the experience of love; Freud claims that “all the faces” (85) of da Vinci’s subjects contain something of this mystery, since da Vinci was able to “put so much of his own nature” into the works (85).

Freud links Mona Lisa’s smile with the complex occurrences of da Vinci’s childhood, and especially the fact that he had two mothers. His biological mother, according to the vulture story, kissed him with the fervency of an abandoned woman. Likewise, Leonardo’s own erotic longing is fulfilled in his representations of the “blissful union between male and female” in his androgynous figures (89). 

Part 4, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood” Analysis

Here, Freud develops his previous speculations about Leonardo’s fondness for his mother and his resultant homosexuality by linking it with da Vinci’s most famous artwork, the Mona Lisa. The affective intensity of this painting, which has entranced viewers ever since its creation, is traced back to the circumstances of his early life, as revealed by the vulture fantasy. It is precisely the sexual repression and Leonardo’s unfulfilled erotic life that drives Leonardo to charge his creative work with such erotic intensity, in Freud’s view.